Sorry I’m Not Sorry If You Hate Goals

Lately, it seems all the rage to diss fitness goals, of all things.

“Don’t set goals – you’ll feel like a failure when you don’t reach them!”

“Don’t set goals – they’ll kill your motivation!”

One article even argued that long-term goals cause you to “define your limitations.” So, for example, if you set a goal to run a sub-3:30 marathon and end up doing better, you’ve “sold yourself short.” If you do worse than that, you’re disappointed. Bam?

In a Periscope broadcast I happened upon, a well-known coach explained that we should set “intentions,” not goals, because not reaching a goal is bad for your self-esteem.

Wait, what? Are we really just wimps? I don’t think so.

Sorry I'm Not Sorry If You Hate Goals

These statements are confounding. It’s when I don’t set long- and short-term goals that I feel indecisive, disorganized, and overwhelmed. Note that did not reach a single goal I set last year, yet I don’t feel like a failure at all. Life (or in my case, a prophylactic double mastectomy) happens. I’m chomping at the bit like a crazy-ass wildhorse to reach my fitness goals for this year (here’s a few strength-training goals to hone in on).

I’ve also used goal-setting with my clients for years, and yet we never assume goals will be reached in a neat, linear fashion. And when these badass women do reach their goals, their confidence skyrockets.

I happen to think the New Year is the perfect time to set short- and long-term goals, so I’m sharing my secrets with you right here.

Short-Term, Simple, and Successful

There are two good reasons for setting short-term goals (achieved within a day or week). We call these micro-goals in my coaching programs.

1. You need to change habits to reach your long-term fitness goals. 

Habit changes ain’t easy, especially when all you can see is that distant, final goal. It’s also not easy to sustain big, sudden lifestyle changes (hence the failure of most resolutions). Even studies show that smaller behavioral weight-loss changes are more successful and easier to sustain than trying to make major lifestyle changes all at once. [3]

Let’s say you want to go from 23% body fat to 18% within 12 weeks. To make this happen, you need to make specific changes to your diet, track your food, and increase aerobic exercise. Do you have the discipline and know-how to do this without setting daily or weekly goals? That’s quite a leap. But micro-goals are tiny steps that help you feel successful on a regular basis and add up to lifestyle changes. For example, you will do 30 minutes of cardio on Tuesday and Saturday, cut alcohol down to two drinks per week, and log your food for two weeks.

2. You feel overwhelmed or demotivated when you try to set long-term goals.

Motivation is rather complex. Global statements that not reaching goals inhibit motivation for everyone are simply untrue. One study showed that a when participants were unmotivated to exercise, they actually saw the finish line as farther away. [1]

Another study showed that participants who committed to a manageable goal they could accomplish in the near future – and who believed that they were capable of meeting that goal – actually saw exercise as easier [2].

Your Long-Term Vision Is Your Motivation

Bigger, long-term goals help you keep your eyes on the prize – they’re your all-important why that will help keep you motivated and focused. Why am I doing cardio on Tuesdays? Because I want to lose 5% body fat, fit into my old jeans, and have a body that screams damn, girl!

If life gets in the way, we just pick up where we left off keep goin’. You can always change the end date or even the goal if you want. Be as realistic as you can and don’t be judgy if the date didn’t happen to be accurate. In fact, consider your “end date” an estimate only, but do try to aim for it with all you’ve got.

Rachel Cosgrove, best-selling author, spokesperson, and co-owner of a successful gym with her husband Alwyn, is a strong believer in the power of goals. Speaking at an IDEA World Conference she said,

You’ve got to pick your head up every once in awhile and look for the signs, look for the door, and figure out, ‘where do I want to go?'”[4]

So even though we have to do the daily work of working towards our goals, we also need to “pick our head up” to find our way there.

Cosgrove also recommends writing your goals down and then taking immediate action. You’ve got to train your brain to behave and think differently. Yes, it takes effort, but how badly do you want it?

So this year I have my big and small goals posted where I can see them every day (unassisted pull ups, staying injury-free, stronger pecs, and improved cardiovascular health). I’ve set up small steps for each week through the next few months and already started. I really do recommend that you do this as well – that immediate action works!

So take the time to set yours up today. Visualize, plan, and GO!


[1] Shana Cole et al., “Visual perception and regulatory conflict: motivation and physiology influence distance perception,” Journal of Experimental Psychology, February 2013

[2] Chris Weller, During Exercise, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: How Focus Helps Shorten Perceived Workout Time, Medical Daily, October 1, 2014

[3] Lutes, LD et al, Small changes in nutrition and physical activity promote weight loss and maintenance, Ann Behav Med. 2008 Jun;35(3):351-7. doi: 10.1007/s12160-008-9033-z. Epub 2008 Jun 21.

[4] Cosgrove, Rachel, How to Be the CEO of Your Career in the Fitness Industry, IDEA Video Library

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15 thoughts on “Sorry I’m Not Sorry If You Hate Goals

  1. As usual I fall somewhere in the middle. I like setting goals – as long as they are goals I can somewhat control. I can control directly (baring major life curveballs) how many days a week I lift or if I get my 7-8 hours of sleep. I can’t control directly what the scale says. But I know if I focus on the goals I will look and feel the way I want to look and feel. 🙂


  2. What gets lost in this goal/no-goal debate is whether or not those goals fit into an individual’s life. I’m not opposed to recommending short and long-term goals to my clients, and even that client I call, Self.

    I always like to set up the framework of the lifestyle before the goals though. It makes no sense to set any level goal if the lifestyle can’t support it.

    Very good article, Ma’m…


    • Thanks hon! You nailed it. I think people just need help with goal setting, and definitely around their lifestyle. It takes discipline to make the time to think it through. And you gotta want it.


  3. I don’t understand the goal hate either. It happened last year and majorly bad this year. I like setting goals (as long as they are measurable and attainable). I like setting short-term goals and long-term goals. I like even further setting those for my running. If I don’t have goals, I am lost…unorganized…and easily distra…ooohhh something shiny. I’m still working on unassisted pullups. I just want one for right now.


    • Agree Kristi! I think goal setting is more important than ever, what with the “shiny things” syndrome we all face. It’s not even our fault! We’re just bombarded. I want you to have (1) unassisted pull up too. Keep pushing!!


  4. I am still recovering from a back injury and feel afraid to set goals for fear of pushing myself and having a setback. Is that ok? or am I looking at it wrong?


    • Hi Melody,
      Sorry to hear about your back injury! You can still have goals, though… holding back to let it heal is a good one. Any rehab you’re doing – stretching, foam rolling, gentle strengthening – are excellent goals too. Just adjust your goals to your situation. When you’re clear to lift again, a goal can be to strengthen your core and use form that protects your back. Patience pays off – you’ll get there!


  5. I’m totally guilty of poo-pooing goals, and the problem I’ve seen is that most people don’t how to set them effectively. I see people emotionally attached to a specific result, and put themselves through a process they hate in order to reach it. I.e. they LOVE the idea of reaching 120 pounds, but HATE every second of how they get there, with the end result being that once they cross the finish line, everything in their daily life reverts to “normal.”

    This is endemic to people with a history of yo-yo dieting, who are actually experts at reaching their goals. Problem is, they focused on the specific outcome instead of designing a lifestyle that works long-term.

    I think this is why your #1 is universal; designing a lifestyle of habits that support daily happiness *and* health goals is a win that sticks.

    Maybe the middle ground is setting goals related to *action*, such as sticking to calorie and workout schedules/targets for x% of the month, instead of a “finish line” scale number or bodyfat percentage.


    • Hi Sam! You capture the problem so well. “I want to lose x pounds” seems less daunting than changing how you think or behave. Yet ironically, people who don’t make lifestyle and attitude changes find themselves losing (or trying to lose) the same pounds over and over. Lifestyle changes are best done veeeery slowly, and I agree that they should be enjoyable and immediately beneficial. Thanks for weighing in! 🙂


  6. What the heck… who would possibly hate goals? Goals are crucial to success. I guess unsuccessful people don’t like goals because they never achieve them? Sounds mean but I don’t know what else to think!


  7. I think the concept of a ‘goal’ can mean different things to different people. My understanding of a goal is something very specific, with a definite, measurable end result, that is, above all, realistic and achievable. A lot of companies have their employees create ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound), and I’ve certainly applied this same concept to some of my fitness goals. I think where some people get into trouble is not knowing or realizing specifically what they’ll need to do to actually achieve their goal… for example, if someone wants to lose (and permanently keep off) 20 pounds, their first thought is probably to start a diet, but as a lot of us know, short-term diets don’t always work that well. What’s needed instead is a whole lifestyle change that allows you to lose the weight and keep it off from that point on.


    • So true Lanny. Your understanding of a goal is also mine. Vague goals and quick fixes don’t really have much of a chance of succeeding, yet people might use the lack of results as a reason why goals are “bad.” Thanks for writing!


  8. Great read! Planning long term goals is important for seeing that finish line but it’s the dedication to the “micro-goals” as you put it, that are the building blocks & glue that manifest your long term goals.


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